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First padded practice elicits rugged, in-your-face action
By CHRIS HAVEL
Just as no two NFL teams are identical, neither are the training camps they will be conducting in the next month. However, there are some aspects common to all.
The Packers were 45 minutes into the first padded practice of training camp when the position groups broke off for individual work. The defensive linemen jogged over to the sled, where defensive line coach Mike Trgovac let them know exactly what was expected on this cool, overcast Sunday morning at Ray Nitschke Field.
Trgovac’s tone was firm and measured.
“Let’s go now,” he said. “Get low and explode. We’ve got the pads on now.”
As rookie defensive end Datone Jones eased into his three-point stance in front of the sled, Trgovac added, “Show no (expletive) mercy!”
At the whistle, Jones slammed into the sled before swatting it aside like one might shrug off a mosquito.
“Nice,” Trgovac said.
Whether it was the sled or offensive teammates the defense responded. Perhaps tired of tip-toeing through two days of unpadded practices, or maybe sick of hearing the number “579,” Dom Capers’ crew opened with a serious, get-in-your-face style that was much welcomed.
Interestingly, it was the first-round pick (Jones) and the former defensive linemen off a prison stint (Johnny Jolly) who led the charge.
The coaching staff seemed pleased with the tone-setters.
When the pads came on Jones (6-4, 295 pounds) seemed to get bigger while Jolly (6-3, 325) appeared to get nastier. After the San Francisco 49ers’ offense gashed Green Bay for 579 yards in last season’s NFC Divisional Playoff loss, something needed to change.
Sunday’s first padded practice qualified.
“It was great to get that competitive environment established,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought they definitely practiced with an edge. We had too much extracurricular activities going on. That falls under your category of player safety. We have to practice better together, something that you don’t do overnight. This is a normal progression you go through every year in training camp.
“But I thought our guys came out on the high side of playing with an edge and that’s exactly what we want.”
Jones definitely made an impact.
“Definitely carries his pads,” McCarthy said. “Everybody’s different, everybody’s built different. You look at the way they carry their pads and the way they move in pads … I thought Datone looked very good, very comfortable. He’s in good shape.”
Will the Packers’ defense be in as good a shape when the season opens? It’s way too early to be certain, but the first padded practice proved to be a strong step in the right direction.
Add Jolly to the players who were impressed.
“(Jones) is looking good, man,” Jolly told reporters. “He’s so fast, man, it’s not even funny.”
Jones worked with the first unit and in the sub-packages.
Offensively, Aaron Rodgers and Co. did what they do best. They executed with a fair amount of precision, especially in the no-huddle. James Jones opened the day with a spectacular grab over right corner Sam Shields, who was in perfect position.
The day ended with Jarrett Boykin beating first-year cornerback James Nixon – who also was in position – by making a fine catch.
In between, there were several shouting/shoving matches with left guard Josh Sitton and Jolly often in the mix. For those who doubted Jolly would be successful in his return from a three-year absence that included jail time, Sunday’s practice suggested he has a great opportunity.
Elsewhere, rookie backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin showed speed, shiftiness and power. They were raw at times, but the potential is apparent.
Rookie receiver Myles White had a rough day. After dropping a pass and fumbling while running the gauntlet, White messed up during the one-on-one tackling drill.
One of the defensive assistants barked, “I would not mess up the drill if I was the 18th guy in line!”
The Packers were serious on Day 3 – the first full pads practice – and they showed a sense of urgency.
Now we shall see if they can sustain it.
The answers to these and many other questions will come to light beginning with Friday’s first practice of training camp.